11 December 2011
Isaiah 61:1-2, 10-11
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1.6-8, 19-28
The Guru or Indian holy man was meditating in his cave in the mountains and opened his eyes to discover an unexpected visitor sitting before him – the abbot or superior of a well-known monastery. “What do you seek”, asked the guru? The abbot told his story of sadness and disappointment. At one time the monastery had been famous throughout the world of the time. Its cells were filled with many monks, and young men training to be monks. But now difficult times had fallen on the monastery. There were only a handful of monks left who went about their prayers and duties with heavy hearts.
Is it because of our sins that the monastery has been reduced to this state? ‘Yes’, said the guru, ‘a sin of ignorance’. ‘What might that be’, asked the abbot? ‘One of your monks is the Messiah in disguise and you are ignorant of this. Having said this the guru closed his eyes and went back to his meditation.
Throughout his long and tiring journey back to the monastery, the abbot’s heart beat fast at the thought that the Messiah – the Messiah himself – had returned to the earth and was right there in the monastery. How was it that he failed to recognize him? And who could it be? Brother Thomas? Hardly him. Brother Phillip. Unlikely. Brother Peter? Surely not. No, not him either. He had too many defects. But then the guru said he was in disguise. Could those defects be one of his disguises? Come to think of it, every one in the monastery had defects. And one of them had to be the Messiah.
Back in the monastery he assembled the monks and told them what he had discovered. They looked at one another in disbelief. The Messiah? Here? Incredible. But he was supposed to be here in disguise. So, maybe…. What if it were so and so? Or the one over there. Or perhaps..? One thing was certain: If the Messiah was there in disguise it was not likely that they would recognize him. So they started to treat everyone with great respect and consideration. “You never know”, they said to themselves when they dealt with one another. “Maybe this is the one”.
The result was that the atmosphere of the monastery became filled with joy. Soon dozens of young men were seeking admission. Once again their church echoed with the joyful chants of the monks who were aglow with the spirit of love. Now again people traveled from far and wide to get spiritual nourishment.
If you and I were alive the first Christmas would we have recognised Jesus when he came, or later on in his public life? So many he met didn’t. Some say ‘if I were there then and could have only seen him, touched him, listened to him I would have believed in him’. Really? Well, we can touch him everyday if we wish. As Jesus himself says in Matthew’s gospel – “what you do to one of the least of these you did it to me. I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink etc.” Not only that, but at the Eucharist we could hardly do anything more intimate than touch him when we share his body and blood.
In the gospel John says to his questioners: “I baptize you with water but there is one among you whom you do not recognise, the One coming after me”. What a changed world there would be if we would treat the people we live with and meet each day like the monks after they discovered that the Messiah was in their midst, but in disguise. Is he still amongst us and we don’t recognize him because of his disguise?
Maybe the best Christmas gift we could give to Jesus and our world, the best way to prepare for his coming this Christmas would be to care for and respect each one we meet daily. What a change in our world this would bring about. And because it is so difficult to do so, the first reading reminds us that “The spirit of the Lord has been given to us”. This is as a result of our baptism and so if we can call often daily on the Spirit to make us more conscious of the Messiah amongst us, then it is certainly possible.
In the opening verses of today’s gospel John the Baptist is described as a man sent by God to witness to the Light which is Jesus himself. The word ‘witness’ applied to John the Baptist here has a very important and special meaning. It does not mean witness in the legal sense but rather John is a witness because he announces the meaning of Jesus, who is the Light of the world. Jesus lights up for us the way back to the Father and what God considers to be of great importance. It is not just a legalistic religious observance but as Isaiah says today ‘to bring glad tidings to the poor, heal the brokenhearted and proclaim liberty to captives’.
This is us – where are we captive in our lives? Are we people who can rejoice, even in the midst of difficulties because we have a Saviour who dwells amongst us and by our side, ready to strengthen us and give us courage wherever necessary.
“Lord Jesus, give us your holy Spirit so as to recognise you in others always and to treat them with respect and love as the best way to prepare for your coming at Christmas and at the end of time. Amen.”
Fr. Jim Kirstein, SMA